BETHLEHEM • Secretive British street artist Banksy's Walled-Off Hotel in Bethlehem welcomed its first guests on Monday. The hotel is only 4m from Israel's separation wall, which cuts through the occupied West Bank, and all the rooms face it.
The nine rooms, which Banksy described as having the "worst view of any hotel in the world", range from US$30 (S$42) for a bunk bed in one room to US$965 a night for the presidential suite. Guests, who will each pay a US$1,000 deposit to ward off theft of the dozens of new Banksy works on the walls, began arriving in the early afternoon.
Mr Paul Smith from the British city of Bristol, where Banksy is also said to be from, said: "It's bizarre - I feel like I am in a painting."
Manager Wissam Salsaa said the hotel was nearly totally booked for the next three months. He rejected criticism that prices of the rooms were unaffordable for many Palestinians, saying it has about 50 staff to pay and any profits would go back into the community.
"Everyone who came here thinks this is the most amazing project for letting the voice of the Palestinians be heard."
The hotel was announced this month and the artwork - Banksy's largest new collection in years - has been donated to the local community, the hotel's website says. It urges guests to explore the possibility of painting on the wall, while a graffiti-supplies store with "everything you need to make your mark" was preparing to open next door this week.
In the hotel, staff in red waistcoats served Walled-Off Salads and afternoon tea in the lobby, while a self-playing piano performed classic pop hits. Tourists may visit even if not staying, with a few milling around inspecting a gallery selling Palestinian art and a museum highlighting the history of the region.
The rooms themselves have a deliberate faded luxury, with typical Banksy touches. Above a bed in one room, an Israeli soldier and Palestinian protester fight with pillows, while a television supposedly showing CNN is cracked and backwards. In the presidential suite, a working jacuzzi is fed from a leaking water tank similar to the type that adorns the roofs of many Palestinian homes.